Welcome to HEATHEN. I'm Matthew Blake.

I've always been a church geek. There are certain arenas where being a "geek" is really just code for "aficionado," and is, in fact, decidedly not geeky. Pop culture geeks, political junkies, tech nerds - they all have a fair amount of social clout. I have doubts the same holds true for church geek.

But I know I'm not the only one, nor am I alone in being deeply conflicted when it comes to faith. This podcast especially for those folks.

I grew up in an extremist example of conservative evangelical fundamentalism in the wooded mountains of western North Carolina. And I was good at it. Really, really good. The golden boy of my church's brand of extremism. Of course, what is extreme to the masses is normal to the person born into it, until he finally travels beyond that bubble.

It took me nearly 30 years of living, coming to terms with my sexual identity, lots of spiritual angst, and being evicted from at least three churches (including one I helped to start), but I finally decided that I was not a Christian. I disassociated, in name at least, from the religion of my youth and my family. I would choose instead to be, as my Mom often cheekily called anything outside the realm of Christendom, heathen.

In practice, though, I've found it harder to fully cut ties. I've never not gone to church. The few "breaks" I've taken over the years never amounted to more than a couple of months before something would draw me in again. The promise of a fresh start or new friends, the hope that this time things will be different, the craving for ritual and the comfort of music, the admiration for a certain church leader. Even in the past seven or eight years when I've been attending as a skeptic instead of a believer - I've still been attending.

It's a pressing question for me: what keeps pulling me in? Why can't I quit the church? What do I believe, really? I can talk all day about what I don't believe - all the things wrong with the system, the Bible, the people who perpetuate the abuse. But I don't have a good answer to the question, what do I believe?

That's the impetus behind HEATHEN. This is simply something I need to talk about. In my adventures across the country and the many churches I've tried and failed to fit into, I've met plenty of people with similar stories. These are the folks I'll be sitting down with each week to hash out our histories and hang-ups. To damn the downsides of faith, and muse on its merits. To paradoxically geek out on a culture we've left, or that may have left us.

If you feel some or many of these same things, I hope you find something of value in our stories and conversations here. I hope that by talking it out, we can find the closure we need, the motivation to move forward, the language to own our stories, and, perhaps most importantly, the community that we crave.

Here's to the heathens.